I’m not yet finished with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and I make a point not to formally review anything that I haven’t finished, so consider this a critique. It’s a critique born of the unorthodox way that I’m playing the game, which is itself the reason that I haven’t finished it yet. For reasons I’m still unclear on, my wife Hanah has expressed interest in Skyward Sword, so we’re doing a quasi-cooperative playthrough. We hand the controller back and forth, I offer hints, and we generally try to stay at about the same level of progress on our respective saves. We make an odd couple: I’m a grizzled Zelda veteran whose played video games his whole life, while Hanah’s a relative novice to the series and more casual devotee to the medium. It’s an unorthodox way to play the game, one that’s driven me towards an unsettling realization: neither one of us is all that happy with the game. This raises the question: Who is Skyward Sword’s audience?
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My daughter was recently asked by her teacher to interview my grandfather for her seventh grade class. The teacher was interested in getting some insight into the rapidly disappearing GI Generation, those that served during World War II. One of the questions that my daughter asked my grandfather was what he liked most about living through the 1940s and 1950s. His response: “I liked that the population was smaller.”
I was really taken by this response, as I grew up at the very edge of the metropolitan Denver area in the 1980s and returning there now, I am always struck by how crazily busy my little suburb has grown. It really isn’t “at the very edge” now—at all. The US population has grown to its current size of over 310 million people, but it was only about half that size in the decades that my grandfather was in his 20s and 30s. I imagine that, to him, the whole US looks a heck of a lot more crazily busy than my little suburb now looks to me.
This week Nick Dinicola and I are joined by our fellow blogger Mattie Brice to discuss, in part, the games of the year.
However, with PopMatters posting a forthcoming list of the best games of the year, we discuss more specifically that list, our writers’ tastes here at PopMatters, and also what Game of the Year might mean in general to gaming.
I like collectibles, but I understand why most people do not. When used poorly, they can intrude on a game in frustrating ways, encouraging behavior that contradicts the gameplay, ruining the game’s pace, or just getting in the way in general.
There are some excellent collectibles: the audio logs in Bioshock flesh out the fascinating history of Rapture, the manuscript pages in Alan Wake serve as exposition and foreshadowing, the badges in L.A. Noire demand a kind of meta-detective work that perfectly supplements the game proper. But in my opinion, the best collectible that I’ve ever had to collect has to be the Riddler Trophies in Batman: Arkham City.
After five days trapped between an eight hundred pound boulder and a canyon wall, dying of extreme thirst and malnutrition, Aron Ralston amputated his own arm with a dull two inch pocket knife. Carrying out this impromptu surgery took time and tenacity. Ralston first broke his radius and ulna and then carved and chipped away at his tissue and tendons for about an hour before pulling himself free. Then, in a state of delirium, Ralston rappelled down a 65-foot wall and walked out of the canyon.
Since Ralston’s agonizing ordeal, he has become an inspirational speaker, and for good reason—it takes a uniquely strong person to survive the impossible. Yet according to Ralston, the exact opposite is true. You, yes, you, my humble reader, would chop off your own arm too if you had to. In fact, Ralston’s story is so compelling for this exact reason. It forces us to ask ourselves, would I be capable of such a seemingly inhuman feat? Could I really confront the pain and horror of self-amputation and survive? In his award nominated film 127 Hours, which is based on Ralston’s experience, Danny Boyle answers with a resounding yes. Boyle punctuates Ralston’s escape with a shot of ancient paintings on a canyon wall and a montage of people celebrating, running, swimming, and generally living. Instead of exalting Ralston, he places him within a long history of human accomplishment, a representative of the spirit that we each have to endure and overcome immense challenges. The film is a triumphant celebration of human tenacity.
Since their inception, the sensations of empowerment that games have evoked in their audience only slightly mirror the universal humanity depicted in Boyle’s work. How many millions of player have faced ostensibly insurmountable odds and overcome? How many of us have, at least, defeated the boss or safely navigated a level? Time and again, we have all become heroes. We certainly share that much in common. But too often our heroics are born of something entirely nonhuman. Our champions may possess innate powers, gifts from gods, talking swords, magical incantations, or numerous otherworldly endowments. Few video game characters represent very well both the frailty and fortitude of mankind evidenced in Ralston’s experience.